09/01/2011 1:53PM

Arlington Park: Washington Park Handicap draws deep field

Barbara D. Livingston
General Quarters has been training well for the Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – The Washington Park Handicap offered a $300,000 purse as recently as 2007. The race wasn’t even run the next year, the purse sank to $200,000 in 2009, and it is down to $100,000 now, but the 2011 edition of the Washington Park, a Grade 3 over 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack, still came up with an appealing cast.

General Quarters, the apple of 77-year-old owner-trainer-groom-hotwalker Tom McCarthy’s eye, chipped a knee last summer and required surgery to repair the injury. He didn’t race for about 10 months, but ran well in his June 10 comeback, finishing second by a neck in a seven-furlong dirt race shorter than his best trip. The Firecracker, over one mile on turf July 4, was supposed to be a step forward, but General Quarters ran flat, finishing seventh. McCarthy blamed the performance on what he deemed an unforgiving grass course that jarred General Quarters, a big, heavy horse, and hopes that General Quarters’s first synthetic-surface start since winning run the 2009 Blue Grass Stakes produces improvement.

“He’s training real well,” McCarthy said. “Let me put it to you that way.”

Workin for Hops was 10th in the King Edward and fourth in the Oceanport, turf races, since a dazzling win in the one-turn-mile Hanshin Cup here May 21. Trainer Mike Stidham, who won this race the last two years with Gran Estreno, conceded that a lack of suitable shorter races, as much as Workin for Hops’s fondness for Arlington Polytrack, led to a start in the Washington Park, which is contested over a distance farther than Workin for Hops’s best. Still, Workin for Hops can contend from on or just off what might be a mild pace.

Mister Marti Gras exits a second-place finish in the Arlington Handicap on July 9, but has raced only once on Polytrack, finishing third this past spring in the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland. His trainer, Chris Block, also is in action Saturday with Giant Oak in the Woodward at Saratoga.

Burj Alzain, 3, was breezing July 3 for a possible start in the American Derby, when he was pulled up past the finish and vanned off the track. Nothing serious was found amiss, and Burj Alzain, a talented synthetics specialist, worked four times in August. Also from trainer Gerard Butler’s barn comes 4-year-old filly Maristar, an easy third-level allowance race winner over the course and distance July 30.

Five-year-old Color Me Blue has won half his 12 races and is 3 for 6 on Polytrack, but makes his first start in an open stakes Saturday.